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Spencer Ackerman: Progressives Need to Reject “Israel-Firster” Comments

As the months-long debate dragged on over the term “Israel-firsters,” I’ve wondered when someone on the left would actually stand up and directly condemn it as the anti-Semitic charge that it is. Spencer Ackerman, a national security reporter at Danger Room, is the first to do just that. His essay at Tablet today is sure to draw blowback from his fellow progressives, but it’s an honest and important piece that clearly took a lot of guts and integrity to write.

Read it in full, but here’s a key passage:

Throughout my career, I’ve been associated with the Jewish left—I was to the left of the New Republic staff when I worked there, moved on to Talking Points Memo, hosted my blog at Firedoglake for years, and so on. I’ve criticized the American Jewish right’s myopic, destructive, tribal conception of what it means to love Israel. But it doesn’t deserve to have its Americanness and patriotism questioned. By all means, get into it with people who interpret every disagreement Washington has with Tel Aviv as hostility to the Jewish state. But if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate.

This is tiresome to point out. Many of the writers who are fond of the Israel-firster smear are—appropriately—very good at hearing and analyzing dog-whistles when they’re used to dehumanize Arabs and Muslims. I can’t read anyone’s mind or judge anyone’s intention, but by the sound of it these writers are sending out comparable dog-whistles about Jews.

I don’t agree with Spencer on the issues. Attacking Iran’s facilities – a last resort that should be avoided if possible – isn’t “insanity” if we get to the point where the only alternative is a nuclear Iran. And while I also support a peaceful, two-state solution, the barrier is a lack of stable, moderate Palestinian leadership, not Israeli “recalcitrance.” Years of Israel trading land for peace that never came makes that clear.

But disagreement is fine, even if the arguments get heated. This isn’t elementary school, we don’t have to be nice to each other all the time, and name-calling happens.

What’s not okay is mainstreaming anti-Semitic slurs and sending out dog-whistles to Jew-haters in an attempt to bolster your side, or turning a blind eye when your political allies do it. Spencer’s column is important because it draws a line on the left between acceptable discourse – which includes plenty of discourse that may be stupid or inaccurate – and vulgar anti-Semitic fallacies that should be repudiated by all respectable progressive thinkers and writers. Every once in awhile, these lines need to be drawn. Just like William F. Buckley cast out the Birchers, and conservatives sidelined Pat Buchanan, the left needs to drain its own fever swamps. Spencer’s column is a good start.


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